U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Burkina Faso, June 1996
Bureau of African Affairs
Prepared and released by the Bureau of African Affairs,
Office of West African Affairs
Official Name: Burkina Faso
Area: 274,200 sq. km. (106,000 sq. mi.); about the size of Colorado.
Cities: Capital -- Ouagadougou (pop. 1,000,000). Other cities -- Bobo-
Dioulasso (450,000), Koudougou (90,000).
Terrain: Savanna; brushy plains, and scattered hills.
Climate: Sahelian; pronounced wet and dry seasons.
Nationality: Noun and adjective -- Burkinabe (accent on last "e").
Population (1995): 10.3 million.
Annual growth rate: 2.7 percent.
Ethnic groups: 63 ethnic groups among which are Mossi (half of the
total population), Bobo, Mande, Lobi and Fulani.
Religions: Traditional African 45 percent, Muslim 40 percent,
Christian 15 percent.
Languages: French (official), More, Dioula, others.
Education: Attendance 30 percent. Adult literacy (1992) 17 percent.
Health: Infant mortality rate (1992) -- 130/1,000. Life expectancy --
Work force: Agriculture -- 92 percent. Industry -- 2.1 percent.
Commerce, services and government -- 5.5 percent.
Independence: August 5, 1960.
Constitution: June 11, 1991.
Branches: Executive -- president (chief of state, head of government).
Legislative -- two chambers. Judicial -- independent.
Subdivisions: 45 provinces.
Political parties: Many included in the ruling Congress for Democracy
and Progress (CDP), numerous small opposition parties.
Suffrage: Direct universal.
Central government budget (1996): US$394.5 million.
Defense: 16 percent of government budget.
National holiday: August 4 (Revolution Day).
Flag: Two horizontal bands -- red and green top to bottom, with a
yellow star in the middle.
GDP (1995): US$2.8 billion.
Annual growth rate: 1994, 1.2 percent; 1995, 4.8 percent.
Per capita income (1995): US$300.
Average inflation rate (1995); 8 percent.
Natural resources (limited quantities): manganese, gold, limestone,
marble, phosphate, zinc.
Agriculture (43 percent of GNP): Products -- cotton, millet, sorghum,
rice, livestock, peanuts, shea nuts,
Industry (20 percent of GDP): Types -- mining, agricultural processing
plants, brewing and bottling, light industry.
Trade (1994): Exports -- US$177 million: cotton, gold, livestock,
peanuts, shea nut products. Major markets -- Cote d'Ivoire, European
Union, Taiwan. Imports -- US$355 million.
Official exchange rate (1996): Floats with French franc.
Communaute Financiere Africaine (CFA) francs 100=1 FF; about 510
Fiscal year: Calendar year.
Membership in International Organizations
UN and some of its specialized and related agencies; Organization of
African Unity (OAU); Council of the Entente; West African Economic
and Monetary Union (UEMOA); Economic Community of West
African States (ECOWAS); West African Monetary Union; Niger
Basin Authority; Permanent Inter-State Committee on Drought Control
in the Sahel (CILSS); INTELSAT; Sahel Club; Organization of the
Islamic Conference; Nonaligned Movement; Lome Convention.
Burkina Faso is a landlocked Sahel country that shares borders with six
nations. It lies between the Sahara Desert and the Gulf of Guinea,
south of the loop of the Niger River. The land is green in the south,
with forests and fruit trees, and desert in the north. Most of central
Burkina Faso lies on a savanna plateau, 198-305 meters (650, 1,000 ft.)
above sea level, with fields, brush, and scattered trees. Burkina Faso's
game preserves--the most important of which are Arly, Nazinga, and
Park W--contain lions, elephants, hippopotamus, monkeys, warthog,
and antelopes. Tourism is not well developed.
Annual rainfall varies from about 100 centimeters (40 in.) in the south
to less than 25 centimeters (10 in.) in the extreme north and northeast,
where hot desert winds accentuate the dryness of the region.
Burkina Faso has three distinct seasons: warm and dry (November-
March); hot and dry (March-May); and hot and wet (June-October).
Rivers are not navigable.
Burkina Faso's ten million people belong to two major West African
cultural groups, the Voltaic and the Mande. The Voltaic are far more
numerous and include the Mossi, which make up about one-half of the
population. The Mossi claim descent from warriors who migrated to
present-day Burkina Faso and established an empire that lasted more
than 800 years. Predominantly farmers, the Mossi are still bound by
the traditions of the Mogho Naba, who holds court in Ouagadougou.
About 5,000 Europeans reside in Burkina Faso.
Most of Burkina's people are concentrated in the south and center of
the country, sometimes exceeding 48 per square kilometer (125/sq.
mi.). This population density, high for Africa, causes annual
migrations of hundreds of thousands of Burkinabe to Cote d'Ivoire and
Ghana for seasonal agricultural work.
A plurality of Burkinabe adhere to traditional African religions. The
introduction of Islam to Burkina Faso was initially resisted by the
Mossi rulers. Christians, predominantly Catholics, are largely
concentrated among the urban elite.
Few Burkinabe have had formal education. Schooling is free but not
compulsory, and only about 29 percent of Burkina's primary school-
age children receive a basic education. The University of
Ouagadougou, founded in 1974, was the country's first institution of
higher education. The Polytechnical University in Bobo-Dioulasso was
opened in 1995.
Until the end of the 19th century, the history of Burkina Faso was
dominated by the empire-building Mossi, who are believed to have
come from central or eastern Africa sometime in the 11th century. For
centuries, the Mossi peasant was both farmer and soldier, and the
Mossi people were able to defend their religious beliefs and social
structure against forcible attempts to convert them to Islam by Muslims
from the northwest.
When the French arrived and claimed the area in 1896, Mossi
resistance ended with the capture of their capital at Ouagadougou. In
1919, certain provinces from Cote d'Ivoire were united into a separate
colony called the Upper Volta in the French West Africa federation. In
1932, the new colony was dismembered in a move to economize; it
was reconstituted in 1937 as an administrative division called the
Upper Coast. After World War II, the Mossi renewed their pressure for
separate territorial status and on September 4, 1947, Upper Volta
became a French West African territory again in its own right.
A revision in the organization of French Overseas Territories began
with the passage of the Basic Law (Loi Cadre) of July 23, 1956. This
act was followed by reorganizational measures approved by the French
parliament early in 1957 that ensured a large degree of self-government
for individual territories. Upper Volta became an autonomous republic
in the French Community on December 11, 1958.
Upper Volta achieved independence on August 5, 1960. The first
president, Maurice Yameogo, was the leader of the Voltaic Democratic
Union (UDV). The 1960 constitution provided for election by
universal suffrage of a president and a national assembly for 5-year
terms. Soon after coming to power, Yameogo banned all political
parties other than the UDV. The government lasted until 1966 when
after much unrest--mass demonstrations and strikes by students, labor
unions, and civil servants--the military intervened.
The military coup deposed Yameogo, suspended the constitution,
dissolved the National Assembly, and placed Lt. Col. Aboukar
Sangoule Lamizana at the head of a government of senior army
officers. The army remained in power for 4 years, and o n June 14,
1970, the Voltans ratified a new constitution that established a 4-year
transition period toward complete civilian rule. Lamizana remained in
power throughout the 1970s as president of military or mixed civil-
military governments. After conflict over the 1970 constitution, a new
constitution was written and approved in 1977 and Lamizana was re-
elected by open elections in 1978.
Lamizana's government faced problems with the country's traditionally
powerful trade unions, and on November 25, 1980, Col. Saye Zerbo
overthrew President Lamizana in a bloodless coup. Colonel Zerbo
established the Military Committee of Recovery for National Progress
(CMRPN) as the supreme governmental authority, thus eradicating the
1977 constitution. Since then, the country has been under military rule.
Colonel Zerbo also encountered resistance from trade unions and was
overthrown 2 years later, on November 7, 1982, by Maj. Dr. Jean-
Baptiste Ouedraogo and the Council of Popular Salvation (CSP). The
CSP continued to ban political parties and organizations, yet promised
a transition to civilian rule and a new constitution.
Factional infighting developed between moderates in the CSP and the
radicals, led by Capt. Thomas Sankara, who was appointed prime
minister in January 1983. The internal political struggle and Sankara's
leftist rhetoric led to his arrest and subsequent efforts to bring about his
release, directed by Capt. Blaise Compaore. This release effort resulted
in yet another military coup d'etat on August 4, 1983.
After the coup, Sankara formed the National Council for the
Revolution (CNR), with himself as president. Sankara also established
Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) to "mobilize the
masses" and implement the CNR's revolutionary programs. The CNR,
whose exact membership remained secret until the end, contained two
small intellectual Marxist-Leninist groups. Sankara, Compaore, Capt.
Henri Zongo and Maj. Jean-Baptiste Boukary Lengani, all leftist
military officers, dominated the regime.
On August 4, 1984, Upper Volta changed its name to Burkina Faso,
meaning "the country of honorable people." Sankara, a charismatic
leader, sought by word, deed, and example to mobilize the masses and
launch a massive bootstrap development movement. But many of the
strict austerity measures taken by Sankara met with growing resistance
and disagreement. Despite his initial popularity and personal charisma,
problems began to surface in the implementation of the revolutionary
The CDR's, which were formed as popular mass organizations,
deteriorated in some areas into gangs of armed thugs and clashed with
several trade unions. Tensions over the repressive tactics of the
government and its overall direction mounted steadily. On October 15,
1987, Sankara was assassinated in a coup which brought Captain Blaise
Compaore to power.
Compaore, Captain Henri Zongo, and Major Jean-Baptiste Boukary
Lengani formed the Popular Front (FP), which pledged to continue and
pursue the goals of the revolution and to "rectify" Sankara's
"deviations" from the original aims. The new government, realizing
the need for popular support, tacitly moderated many of Sankara's
policies. As part of a much-discussed political "opening" process,
several political organizations, three of them non- Marxist, were
accepted under an umbrella political organization created in June, 1989
by the Popular Front.
Some members of the leftist "Organisation pour le Democratie
Populaire/Movement du Travail" (ODP/MT) were against the
admission of non-Marxist groups in the front. On September 18, while
Compaore was returning from a two- week trip to Asia, Lengani and
Zongo were accused of plotting to overthrow the Popular Front. They
were arrested and summarily executed the same night. Compaore
reorganized the government, appointed several new ministers, and
assumed the portfolio of Minister of Defense and Security. On
December 23, 1989, a presidential security detail arrested about 30
civilians and military personnel accused of plotting a coup in
collaboration with the Burkinabe external opposition.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
In 1990, the Popular Front held its first National Congress, which
formed a committee to draft a national constitution. The constitution
was approved by referendum in 1991. In 1992, President Compaore
was elected president, running unopposed after the opposition
boycotted the election because of Compaore's refusal to accede to
certain of the opposition's demands such as a sovereign National
Conference to set modalities. The opposition did participate in the
following year's legislative elections, in which the ODP/MT won a
majority of seats.
The government of the Fourth Republic includes a strong presidency, a
prime minister, a Council of Ministers presided over by the president, a
two-chamber National Assembly and the judiciary. The legislature and
judiciary are independent, but remain susceptible to outside influence.
In 1995, Burkina held its first multiparty municipal elections since
independence. With minor exceptions, balloting was considered free
and fair by the local human rights organizations which monitored the
contest. The President's ODP/MT won over 1,100 of some 1,700
councillor seats being contested.
In February, 1996, the ruling ODP/MT merged with several small
opposition parties to form the Congress for Democracy and Progress
(CDP). This effectively co-opted much of what little viable opposition
to Compaore existed. The remaining opposition parties are merging
into larger groups in preparation for 1997 legislative elections and
1998 presidential elections.
Principal Government Officials
President -- Blaise Compaore
Prime Minister -- Kadre Desire Ouedraogo
Ministers of State:
Environment and Water -- Salif Diallo
Integration and African Solidarity -- Hermann Yameogo
Economy, Finance and Planning -- Zephirin Diabre
Foreign Affairs -- Ablasse Ouedraogo
Justice -- Yarga Larba
Territorial Administration -- Yero Boly
Commerce, Industry and Crafts -- Talata Dominique Kafando
Energy and Mines -- Elie Ouedraogo
Secondary and Higher Education and Scientific Research -- Melegue
Primary Education and Mass Literacy -- Seydou Baworo Sanou
Public Works, Housing and Urban Affairs -- Joseph Kabore
Parliamentary Relations -- Thomas Sanon
Employment and Social Security -- Souleymane Zibare
Public Functions and Administrative Modernization -- Juliette
Agriculture and Animal Resources -- Michel Koutaba
Communications and Culture -- Nurukyor Claude Somda
Health -- Christophe Dabire
Youth and Sport -- Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Andre Tiendrebeogo
Transport and Tourism -- Viviane Yolande Compaore
Social Action and the Family -- Madame Ouandaogo nee Bana Maiga
Ambassador to the United States -- Gaetan R. Ouedraogo
Burkina Faso maintains an embassy in the United States at 2340
Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-332-5577).
Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world, with per
capital GNP of US$300. Over 80 percent of the population relies on
subsistence agriculture, with only a small fraction directly involved in
industry and services. Drought, poor soil, lack of adequate
communications and other infrastructure, a low literacy rate, and a
stagnant economy are all longstanding problems. The export economy
also remains subject to fluctuations in world prices.
Though hobbled by an extremely resource-deprived domestic
economy, Burkina remains committed to the structural adjustment
program it launched in 1991. It has largely recovered from the
devaluation of the CFA in January, 1994, with a 1995 growth rate of
Many Burkinabe migrate to neighboring countries for work, and their
remittances provide a substantial contribution to the balance of
payments. Burkina is attempting to improve the economy by
developing its mineral resources, improving its infrastructure, making
its agricultural and livestock sectors more productive and competitive,
and stabilizing the supplies and prices of food grains.
The agricultural economy remains highly vulnerable to fluctuations in
rainfall. The Mossi Plateau in north central Burkina faces
encroachment from the Sahara. The resultant southward migration
means heightened competition for control of very limited water
resources south of the Mossi Plateau. Over 80 percent of the
population ekes out a living as subsistence farmers, living with
problems of climate, soil erosion, and rudimentary technology. The
staple crops are millet, sorghum, maize, and rice. The cash crops are
cotton, groundnuts, karite (shea nuts) and sesame. Livestock, once a
major export, has declined.
Industry, still in an embryonic stage, is located primarily in Bobo-
Dioulasso, Ouagadougou, Banfora and Koudougou. Manufacturing is
limited to food processing, textiles, and other import substitution,
heavily protected by tariffs. Some factories are privately owned, and
others are set to be privatized. Burkina's exploitable natural resources
are limited, although a manganese ore deposit is located in the remote
northeast. Gold mining has increased greatly since the mid-1980s and
along with cotton is a leading export money-earner.
A railway connects Burkina with the excellent deepwater port at
Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, 1,150 kilometers (712 mi.) away. Burkina has
about over 13,000 kilometers (7800 mi.) of roads, although only about
14 percent are paved.
Burkina has excellent relations with European and Asian donors, who
are active in Burkina in major ways. France in particular continues to
provide significant aid and support Compaore's role as a regional
power broker. Compaore has mediated in the political crisis in Togo
and helped resolve the Tuareg conflict in Niger. Burkina still hosts
several thousand Tuareg refugees from Mali, though many have
already been repatriated. Compaore also maintains links with Libya,
which provides some aid to Burkina.
U.S. relations with Burkina Faso are generally good, though Burkina's
continuing covert involvement in Liberia's civil war remains a
stumbling block to closer U.S.-Burkina relations. During the early
years of the Liberian civil war, Burkina funneled arms to Taylor and
provided him with a retinue of Libyan-trained bodyguards from the
Burkinabe security forces. The situation has improved since 1992,
when the U.S. Ambassador was recalled from Ouagadougou over
reports that Burkina Faso was funneling arms to one of the Liberian
U.S. trade with Burkina is still extremely limited: $14.5 million in U.S.
exports in 1995. But investment possibilities exist, especially in the
mining and communications sectors.
In response to the drought that plagued the Sahel countries from 1968
to 1974, the U.S. provided significant emergency food assistance to
Burkina Faso. Following this, the United States and other international
donors began to work with the Sahel countries to plan and implement
long term development assistance programs.
While the overall amount of U.S. assistance to Burkina dropped with
the 1995 closure of the AID mission in Ouagadougou, the Embassy
maintains a program supporting projects throughout the country. In
1995 the first group of Peace Corps volunteers in Burkina Faso since
1987 were sworn in. The volunteers work in rural health, with
education volunteers scheduled to come in 1996.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador -- Sharon Wilkinson
Deputy Chief of Mission -- John M. Jones
Political/Economic Officer; Commercial Attache -- Brian Aggeler
Administrative Officer -- Matt Cook
Peace Corps Country Director -- John Reddy
Public Affairs Officer (USIS) -- Virgil Bodeen
The U.S. Embassy in Burkina Faso is located on Avenue Raoul
Follereau in Ouagadougou. Its mailing addresses are: (international
mail) 01 B.P. 35, Ouagadougou 01, Burkina Faso; (US mail)
Ouagadougou/DOS, Washington, D.C. 20521-2440, tel: (226) 30-67-
23/24/25, fax: (226) 31-23-68
or (226) 30-38-90.
Customs: Visas and yellow fever inoculations are required for entry.
Climate and clothing: Except for the rainy season (June-October), the
climate is similar to Arizona's. Summer clothing is suitable for
Ouagadougou; a light wrap is recommended during the cool season
Health: Local medical services are limited. Unwashed fruits and
vegetables and undercooked meats are unsafe to eat. Tapwater is not
potable; bottled mineral water is available at hotels and restaurants.
Malaria suppressants should be started two weeks before arrival and
continue eight weeks after departure. Burkina has chloroquine-
resistant malaria. Typhoid and gamma globulin (hepatitis) inoculations
are recommended for travel in rural areas. Do not swim in lakes of
streams, which may be infested with Bilharzia. Health requirements
change; check latest information.
Transportation: Ouagadougou's international airport is served by
several weekly flights from Paris, Abidjan, Niamey, Bamako, Dakar,
Algiers, Moscow, and Tripoli. Air Burkina operates all year between
the capital and other large towns in Burkina Faso, as well as Niamey,
Bamako, Lome, Cotonou, and Abidjan. Ouagadougou is linked by
paved roads to Lome, Abidjan, Niamey and Bamako, and by rail to
Abidjan. The uncertainty of road conditions complicates transportation
elsewhere. Taxis are available in large towns.
Telecommunications: Long-distance telephone service is via satellite.
Cable, telex, and fax services are available. Cable and telex are more
reliable. Ouagadougou is five standard time zones ahead of eastern
Tourist Attractions: Although by international standards tourist
facilities seem limited, Burkina Faso does present tourist opportunities
for the adventurous traveler. Worthwhile visits include the National
Museum and artisan centers in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso, the
Nazinga, Arly and Park W game preserves, and interesting market
towns such as Gorom-Gorom. For details, write the Office National
Du Tourisme du Burkina Faso, 01 B.P. 624, Ouagadougou. Every other
February, Burkina hosts a widely attended international African film
festival called FESPACO.
These titles are presented as a general indication of material published
on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial
Andriamirado, Sennen. Il s'Appelait Sankara. Paris: Jeune Afrique
Blumenthal, Susan. Bright Continent. Garden City: Anchor
Politique Africaine, V.20 (December 1985), "Le Burkina Faso." Paris:
Eds. Karthala, 1985.
Savonnet-Guyot, Claudette. Etat et Societe au Burkina. Paris: Eds.
Skinner, Elliot P. The Mossi of the Upper Volta: The Political
Development of a Sudanese People. Stanford: Stanford University
"Sankara and the Burkinabe Revolution," in Journal of Modern African
Studies, Vol. 26, No. 3, Sept. 1988, pp. 435-457.
Thompson, Virginia. West Africa's Council of the Entente. Ithaca:
Cornell University Press, 1972.
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